This is a wonderfully inspiring story that aired on NPR a few days ago. Struggling Families Lift Themselves out of Poverty shares the story of the Family Independence Initiative, a non profit with a new model for serving families struggling with poverty. The Family Independence Initiative encourages “low-income families to form small groups and help each other figure out how to get ahead” rather than assigning caseworkers and removing supports when families start to make progress as many ‘traditional’ social welfare programs do. Families participating in the Family Independence Initiative have lots of freedom to set their own goals, support one another in working towards those goals, and here’s where the data comes in… they track their own progress!! And it sounds like they find their own data actionable….
One participant states that seeing the data (and visualizations of the data) on her progress “‘shows you [that] either you’re improving and your growing, or [you have] stagnated. And it keeps you accountable.'”
Isn’t this just what we mean, often, when we we talk about wanting actionable data? Data that results in some greater understanding, data that drives further improvement, data that indicates change is needed, or illustrates the results of change, etc….
I find this super exciting, mostly because it sounds like an amazing new approach (that seems to be working well thus far) to the enormous problem that is poverty in the US, but also because it is such a tangible, human example of how collecting, looking at, and making use of data can be powerful, indeed.